Big Island, Hawaii
The Ka?? Desert is an amazing desert of lava rock and sand in the southwest rift zone of the Kilauea volcano. It is not a true desert because it does get rainfall, albeit it acid rain, and it exceeds 1,000 mm per year. (39 inches) The desert consists primarily of decaying lava remnants, volcanic ash, sand, and gravel. There is little vegetation here due to the acid rainfall that continuously bombards the desert. The acid rain is formed by moisture mixing with the sulphur dioxide released from volcanic vents. Its a popular hiking destination in Hawaii and is accessible via Highway 11 between Kona and Volcano. Some of the desert is located within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. One needs to be wary of gases, toxins, and acid rain while hiking in this desert based on activity at the active volcanoes in the area since the tradewinds blow right over this area from the geothermal areas. The 1790 Eruption was the most historically devastating in this area. Ash was spread over the desert from this eruption while Chief Keoua Kuahu’ula was travelling around Kilauea to Ka’u after battling with Kamehameha I. 70-80 warriors, with their families, suffocated when the ash entered their lungs. Their footprints were preserved of their hike.
- The Ka’u Desert Trail traverses a starkly beautiful landscape. In this harsh environment of heat, wind, and sulphuric acid rain only the hardiest plants and animals survive. The trail starts out through a 400 year old ‘a’a lava flow, crossing over intricate lava formations and wind-blown ash enroute to Mauna Iki. At Mauna Iki the trail splits. Heading south to Pepeiao, hikers pass wind-sculpted dunes and striking, bare cinder cones. Heading east the Mauna Iki Trail to Hilina Pali road passes over the drifts of Pele’s golden hair entrapped within folds of pahoehoe lava. Overhead, koa’e kea (white-tailed tropicbirds) spiral skyward from their nesting sites in steep-walled pit craters. ~ marker at Ka’u Desert.
- Footprints of the PastSmall clay balls formed in the air where the volcanic ash mixed with moisture, then fell to create a layer of ‘mud’. The victims, their discoverers, and later travellers, likely left their footprints here until the mud eventually hardened. Now that the soft rock is gradually eroded away, or buried by lava and shifting sand. One warrior party of the ali’i (chief) Keoua attempted to pass Kilauea during these violent events, but the toxic gases enveloped the soldiers and their families. 80 men, women, and children were reportedly killed. Ash covered the land – in 1790 A.D. Kilauea’s summit produced a major explosion which filled the sky with ash and debris. Trade winds carried the fine particles across the Ka’u Desert and they coated the land. ~ marker at Ka’u Desert.